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0407 FG: Observations on preservation of quality hay

Brad Nelson Published on 07 August 2007

Twenty-two and one-half percent was once the minimum cost of preserving the top and bottom of haystacks from the elements.

It was the essence of simplicity. All you did was plan on throwing away the top and bottom layers of a harrowbed stack. This was the bare minimum. If the stack took a gully washer of a rainstorm there could easily be fifty percent or more loss.

The intended use of the hay has a lot to do with how much care is taken in the storage of the hay. When the hay is going to a feed store in any of the “pet horse” areas, a discolored spot the size of a silver dollar on a bale of hay will cause that bale to be rejected.

The sweet little lady buying hay for her beloved “Snookums” will be insulted the bale was even offered to her. On the other end of the scale, I once observed a ranch in remote northern Nevada which had ten-year-old hay in uncovered stacks.

The rancher’s comments on the age of the hay was that when the snow was belly deep on a tall cow there would be no complaints about eating the ten-year-old hay.

I once hauled from a stack that had been placed in the low spot in a hay field. An early winter storm left the stack standing in water over the bottom layer.

There were places in that stack that were water wet into the third layer. Another stack we hauled from in the winter had a foot of frozen ice and snow on top of the stack.

We were using lengths of pipe to beat the top of the stack so we could get the bales apart. Then we would drop them to the ground in an attempt to get the bale and the ice separated.

A stack at Arco, Idaho, which should have netted three good loads, had been left uncovered all winter and with repeated rains, snows, thaws, created spots in the stack that were spoiled all the way to the ground.

The pile of rotting hay was larger than the good bales we ended up getting on the truck. We barely got one load of hay from the mess and then the quality was questionable.

The time once was that even the fussy Washington and Oregon coast dairymen would accept hay damaged on the top and bottom up to an inch or so deep.

As times changed and the hay grower began having to find a market for the top and bottom of the stack, attention was given to developing an adequate means of preserving hay from the elements.

Some of the simplest things seem to be beyond the grasp of some of us. Like a stop sign at an intersection. No maintenance, no moving parts, and when properly observed is 100 percent effective in preventing collisions at the intersection.

Water runs down hill. It will find a low haystack every time and soak into the bottom bales. To prevent this, a haystack should be placed on high ground.

Moisture will “wick” up into the bottom of a haystack. Something needs to be placed between dirt and the hay. A temporary help is a tarp laid on the ground and the hay stacked on top of it.

The downside of this is that it is easy to poke holes in the tarp while stacking on it. And if something allows water to get on top of the tarp, the result is worse than no tarp under the hay at all.

The best solution seems to be an elevated stack yard covered with a good six inches of coarse drain rock, and flakes of hay laid on top of the rock and under the premium hay we are trying to preserve.

In the Columbia Basin in central Washington State there are a number of companies that cover haystacks with tarps. The going rate to cover a stack top, bottom, and sides is still less than ten dollars a ton in most situations.

At today’s prices for hay that is a massive savings over the 22½ percent loss of the top and bottom layer. Of course the permanent hay shed or barn is very effective for storage and preservation.

Do the math. It will surprise you how fast one of these structures will pay for itself. If your hay is worth sweating blood over as you harvest it, is it not worth saving every bale in the stack?  FG

Brad Nelson for Progressive Forage Grower magazine